Family vacations, by and large, are the type of situation where you don’t get a lot of input into the schedule if you’re a teenager. You’re at the mercy of other people’s idea of a good time; this is probably due to the fact that a teenager’s idea of a good time tends to involve either watching TV or buying illegal fireworks.
I remember one particular jaunt west during the mid 90’s, where there was a significant amount of outdoorsy sightseeing activity. The part of the trip that stands out in my mind is sitting in the middle of the Columbia Icefield with a very badly sprained ankle. Oh, sure. There were other parts of the trip that were memorable. Uncle Wade driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake up mountain roads with a casual disregard for the speed limit, making him the only person in the car ignoring the thousand foot drop off into the valley below. A deer, which must have been trained by ninjas, stole a snickers bar out of my hand while I wasn’t paying attention at a rest stop. I have yet to live down the Chocolate Espresso Pate incident from the Hotel MacDonald in Edmonton (which produced slightly more hyperactivity than sudden Ritalin withdrawal in a class of Toronto sixth graders. We’re talking Gregor Samsa levels of transformative ridiculousness.)
But, if you’re sitting in a significant amount of pain in the middle of an icefield, while the tour guide and several concerned onlookers have a very serious discussion about how they can possibly get an ice pack up in the next tour bus, that’s going to be memorable. Especially when the absurdism of sitting squarely in what can be considered one of the largest ice packs in the country starts to sink in. It’s the kind of thing that makes a particularly sarcastic teenager say, while removing a sock in order to plunge a rapidly swelling ankle into a glacier, “Whose idea of a good time is this, exactly?”
I’ll tell you who: Weird Old Broads.
And I said as much to Mom and her friend Lynn, whose trip this was. “Weird Old Broads,” I said. Looking back, I suppose this could have gone any number of ways. It’s kind of an inflammatory remark. They weren’t really that old and the level of casual misogyny implicit isn’t really characteristic of my thought process. I was having a very bad day. I suppose I could have ended up grounded, but instead they took to the concept immediately. They ran with it. They practically took it on as a mission statement: WOBs.
WOB World, they called it. It’s a perfect catch-all. They get to do whatever they want and offer nothing by way of explanation other than the title. It’s a license for adventure and eccentric behavior. Want to go sing Sacred Harp in Alabama for two weeks? WOB World. Want to host an extraordinarily elaborate Robbie Burns dinner complete with piper and broadswords in the front room while in period dress? WOB World. Want to possess more technological information and gadgetry than the majority of IT professionals and read technical manuals for fun? WOB World.
The strangest part of the whole thing is that they’ve discovered craft beer. I shouldn’t make it sound like a recent development. They were brewing Czech Pilsner at a brew your own place in Etobicoke a decade before it was cool. They’re critical of things that they don’t like. Aside from “Beats working for a living” one of the most common things said refers to poorly made lager: “This horse is diabetic and should no longer be worked.” They’re slowly developing a taste for hoppy West Coast IPA’s. Their current favourite beer is Sierra Nevada Torpedo, but they keep a dozen or so varieties around just for kicks. They’re in their early sixties and they’re more adventurous than 95% of Ontario beer drinkers.
They send updates from the road. I’ll get emails from brew pubs all over New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Maine. I’ll get gloating text messages from brewery tours. One time, they called from a Wegman’s in Syracuse to taunt me about all the things they could buy that aren’t available in Ontario. They listed the available beers! Cruelty! When I went to Mondial, I thought it would be quite clever to reverse the process. After going to Dieu Du Ciel, I went to a nearby Depanneur to buy some things to take them and called to gloat a little bit, as was almost certainly warranted. “That sounds great. I hate you,” they said. “But I’m bringing you things!” I said. I thought we’d have a nice quiet afternoon and everyone would get to try some very nice beers.
What I didn’t know was that by the time I got to the house in Kingston, it had evolved into a dinner party and beer tasting which I was meant to host. Guests were members of the clergy from St. George’s and the bartender from the pub across the road from St. George’s. The menu was already set. I had to come up with beer pairings for the food courses on short notice with what was available. And I was going to have to talk competently about the things that we were drinking. I don’t know about you, but I’m not at my absolute sharpest after four days at a world class beer festival. I spent the early part of the afternoon muttering quietly under my breath and trying to figure out how not to look like a complete mook.
Here’s what I came up with after searching the cellar:
The menu had twinned appetizers of bocconcini skewers with capers and sundried tomatoes and another kind of skewer with cucumber, sausage and chevre. I figured that since there was a certain amount of salt involved there it would be a good idea to start with something refreshing, so I went with a trio of Pale Ales, explaining the increase in hoppiness and colour in terms of a movement from the east coast (Shipyard and Magic Hat) to the west coast (Sierra Nevada). I followed it with the Charlevoix Hercules Double IPA between courses to give an example of increased hop bitterness and character.
The main course was Beef tenderloin with Asparagus and Tabbouleh. I had the Trois Mousquetieres Rauchbier and a Trois Pistoles to work with. I think the Rauchbier would have gone better if the beef had been grilled instead of roasted, but I think I got away with it. For Dessert we had Atholl Brose and Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque. It didn’t work even remotely, since the dessert had whiskey, raspberries and toasted oats in it. The flavours didn’t mesh, but by that point in the evening, no one really cared. Plus, it meant there was more Aphrodisiaque for me.
The most important thing ended up being not that I managed to look like I know what I’m talking about, but rather that everyone had a good time and hopefully learned a little bit despite my propensity to ramble. I mean, how often do you get presented with a wonderful meal and a captive audience to proselytize to about craft beer? In what world is this experience possible?
WOB World, brother. WOB World.